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Deschutes Leaders Move Ahead On Jail Money Request


Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton made his pitch Thursday to put a $45 million jail expansion before voters next May,and commissioners agreed: It’s time to pop the question.

“I think the commissioners are ready to put this on the ballot,” Commissioner Dennis Luke said after the hour-long meeting.

“And if the voters say no, we’ll have to look at what our other options are. Our hope is that they’ll say yes,and then we’ll do everything we can, by selling property and doing other things, to reduce the debt service to our constituents.”

In a way, the lousy economy makes it a better time to do the expansion, as hungry contractors and lower bids keep costs down.

The reopening of a work-release center ended that revolving-door release of up to 1,000 inmates a year, a process known as “matrixing.”

But officials say it was clear that was a short-term fix.

“We have done everything we can to make sure that only those people who are in jail belong there,” saidCircuit Judge Michael Sullivan. “And when we release those people who are a threat to the community, people the community are at risk.”

“We don’t want to get back to that same situation, and that’s why we’ll be recommending to the community that we expand the jail,” the judge said, noting that even after all the approvals happen, it takes two years to construct and open an expanded facility.

Voter-approved bonds for the Bend Library and county fairgrounds expire inthe next few years, possibly making this tax hike easier to swallow.

So far, Blanton says the reaction he’s heard has been”pretty positive.”

“Of course, you know, no one wants to think we need an expanded jail. It’s not a fun topic – it really isn’t. You’d hope that you’d be in a society, would live in a community where you don’t need to expand your facility. Unfortunately, you do.”

The planned expansionwould add 250 inmate beds to the 228 currently available at the Bend jail and the 90 available at the department’s work-release center, a facility reserved for those convicted of non-violent crimes.

The jail expansion would be funded with a 30-year property tax levy of 18.3 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, or $36.60 a year for a home assessed at $200,000.

There was a great deal of discussion about jail expansion needs a few years ago, when the county was releasing inmates early on a daily basis, using a “matrix” formula to minimize the risk to residents. That ended in 2008, when the work-release center was reopened, but Blanton said at the time that wouldn’t buy time for long.

“We needed a (bigger) jail four or five years ago,” Blanton said.

The sheriff said the jail already is nearly at capacity, often just one or two inmates short of having to again release inmates early. And construction of an expanded jail would take about two years, he said.

In the past, commissioners were divided over whether to sell 1,600 acres of surplus property on Redmond’s east side to fund jail expansion. County Administrator Dave Kanner said the 216 acres of that land within the city’s urban growth boundary could bring $30 million or more, if the real estate market improves.

But the recent building slump makes that option more difficult, and Blanton said the county also has been unsuccessful in efforts to get about $22 million in federal stimulus funds to help with the project.

“I’ve said all along I would not ask the taxpayers for any new taxes until or unless all options had been exhausted,” Blanton told The Bulletin. “That’s where we’re at.”

Luke said he’ll work to see that revenue from surplus land sales, sold at the right time, go into a fund that can reduce the debt obligation for a jail expansion.

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